The Da Vinci Code (book)

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The Da Vinci Code
Cover of The Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci Code is a fictional novel written by Dan Brown. It has sold millions of copies and generated lots of discussion and controversy. In the book, claims are made that the Roman Catholic Church has been involved in a cover-up of the true story about Jesus, who was only a moral teacher. Because the novel claims to contain elements of historical truth within its fictional framework, it has attracted a large amount of criticism for its historical claims, as well as for its clichéd style and improbable storyline. At least ten books debunking its claims have been written, with most of the debunkers writing, just as Brown did, for a popular audience. Brown's departures from agreed historical fact being too extreme for most historians and theologians to concern themselves with.

Plot synopsis


Because of the book's opening claim, many have viewed The Da Vinci Code as a genuine exposé of orthodox Christianity's past.

Fact: (...) All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.

As a result, the book has attracted a generally negative response from the Catholic Church and other Christian communities, from historians who note that Brown has distorted – and in some cases fabricated – history, and from art historians and other readers complaining of sloppy research. Others, including the author, note that the "fact" statement does not claim that the theories presented by the characters in The Da Vinci Code regarding Mary Magdalene, Jesus of Nazareth, and Christianity's past, are accurate.

Criticisms include:

  • The book's claim that, prior to AD 325, Christ was considered no more than a "mortal prophet" by his followers, and that it was only as a consequence of Emperor Constantine's politicking and a close vote at the First Council of Nicaea that Christianity came to view him as divine. This has been debunked by various authors with extensive reference to the Bible and Church Fathers, sources that pre-date the First Council of Nicaea. [1] At the Council, the central question was whether Christ and God were one, or whether instead Christ was the first created being, inferior to the Father, but still superior to all other beings (see Arianism).
  • The central issue of the book, the female deity and unity of male and female, is one of the main preoccupations of modern New Age Wiccan Paganism, but was never an issue in early Christianity. Brown does not quote scriptural support for his thesis, whether canonical or apocryphal. While it can be argued that the role of Mary Magdalene was generally underestimated in history, and this argument has scriptural support, the assertion that she was romantically involved with Jesus is pure conjecture - even Gnostic apocrypha do not go that far. The Gospel of Philip and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene do, however, describe Jesus as loving Mary more than the other disciples and consider her to be an equal to the men, showing her debating with Jesus. In the Gospel of Philip, Jesus is described as frequently kissing her, which is described in vague terms leaving plenty of possible interpretations.
  • The claim that Mary Magdalene was of the tribe of Benjamin (Chapter 58) is not supported by any historical evidence. The fact that Magdala was located in northern Israel, whereas the tribe of Benjamin resided in the south, weighs against it. Furthermore, Paul was a Benjamite but makes no mention of this supposed marriage.
  • The idea that the purported marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene would create a "potent political union with the potential of making a legitimate claim to the throne" (Chapter 58). The worldly connotations of Jesus' kingdom being in or beyond the world have long been a subject of debate in scholarly communities. For those who believe in the story of the gospels, his death and departure after resurrection would exclude him from being an earthly king. However, the connection of the Christian church with actual earthly governments cannot be denied.
  • The claim that Rosslyn Chapel was built by the Knights Templar. It was actually founded by Sir William St Clair, third Earl of Orkney and Lord of Rosslyn.
  • The assertion that the original Olympics were held "as a tribute to the magic of Venus" (Chapter 6), i.e. apparently Aphrodite. Although the origins of the Olympic festivals remain in obscurity, it has been well documented that they were religious festivals in honor of Zeus and Pelops, not Venus [Aphrodite].
  • The theory that Gothic architecture was designed by the Templars to record the secret of the sacred feminine. Historians note that Templars were not involved with European cathedrals of the time, which were generally commissioned by their own bishops.
  • The depiction of the Templars as builders, guild-founders and secret-bearers. Templar historians point to abundant evidence that Templars did not themselves engage in building projects or found guilds for masons, and that they were largely illiterate men unlikely to know "sacred geometry," purportedly handed down from the pyramids' builders. They did, however, build large fortresses. And the Masonic order, founded in the eighteenth century, did seek to rewrite the history of the Templars in this respect.
  • The portrayal of the Priory of Sion as an ancient organisation. The Priory of Sion was originally founded in 1956 by Pierre Plantard and Andre Bonhomme. All organizations in France are legally required to register with the local authorities to comply with the French 1901 Law of Associations, and the original 1956 Registration Documents and 1956 Statutes of the Priory of Sion were submitted on 7 May 1956 at the Sub Prefecture of St Julien-en-Genevois. The Priory of Sion itself was named after the Col du Mont Sion, situated outside the town of Annemasse where Pierre Plantard lived during the 1950s and which also served as the headquarters to the 1956 version of the Priory of Sion. This association promoted low-cost housing, attacked the property developers of Annemasse, and supported the local opposition candidate to the local government authority, Monsieur Maitret, as outlined in the pages of its journal "Circuit." The registration on 7 May 1956 was officially pronounced in the 20 July 1956 edition of the 'Journal Officiel de la République Francaise' on page 6731. This 1956 version terminated sometime after October 1956 under controversial circumstances involving Pierre Plantard. The popular version of the Priory of Sion that involved Godfrey de Bouillon, the Knights Templars, the Merovingians, etc was contrived by Pierre Plantard during the early 1960s when he first met Gerard de Sede and started writing articles and books with him about the Gisors story that was first begun by Roger Lhomoy (Lhomoy was De Sede's pig-farmer at the time). This account was pure historical fiction with the intention of creating money: interest in the Priory of Sion collapsed in France during the mid-1980s and was never to resurface there - despite Pierre Plantard's attempt during 1988-1993 to make a comeback by revising and amending the Priory of Sion by giving it an alternative pedigree. In this final version of the myth the Priory of Sion had no connections with the Crusades or with the Knights Templars, but had been "founded in 1681 in the village of Rennes-le-Chateau by the grandfather of Marie de Negri d'Ables" - the "archive records" of which had been "discovered in Barcelona". This final version was based upon the opening in May 1989 of the 'Sauniere Museum' in Rennes-le-Chateau which Plantard himself attended, and was ignored by everyone there. It is evident that Dan Brown was ignorant of all of this, especially since none of this information had been published. But these are the facts surrounding the Priory of Sion, which forms such a substantial part of his novel.
  • The suggestion that all churches used by the Templars were built round, and that roundness was considered an insult by the Church. Some churches used by the Templars were not round, and those that were round were so in tribute to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Moreover, there are quite a number of round churches, including Bramante's Tempietto, built for Pope Julius II on the site of St Peter's crucifixion. The Pantheon in Rome, which has a circular interior and was originally built as a pagan temple, was re-dedicated as a Christian church in 609 by Pope Boniface IV. Moreover, the circle was thought to be holy and perfect by many Christian thinkers.
  • The depiction of Opus Dei as a monastic order which is the Pope's "personal prelature". In fact, there are no monks in Opus Dei, which has primarily lay membership and whose celibate lay members are called numeraries. Moreover, Opus Dei encourages its lay members to avoid practices that are seen as overly "monkish." The term "personal prelature" does not refer to a special relationship to the Pope. It means an institution in which the jurisdiction of the prelate is not linked to a territory but over persons, wherever they be. Members of Opus Dei do, however, practice voluntary mortification of the flesh, as has been a Christian tradition since at least St Anthony in the third century AD.
  • The claim that the Egyptian gods Amon and Isis represent a divine couple. In Egyptian mythology Isis was never the spouse of Amon, but of Osiris (god of the underworld). Amon's spouse was Mut. Dan Brown also misleadingly claims that Amon was the god of masculine fertility, which is in fact Min. However, in the sychretist phase of Amon worship, he was sometimes identified with Min.
  • The contention that the Mona Lisa was painted by Leonardo da Vinci as a self-portrait and that its title refers to the Egyptian gods Amon and Isis. It is uncertain who was the historical Mona Lisa; but there have been persuasive sources pointing to her being Lisa Gherardini or, less probably, Isabella of Aragon. However, other researchers have concluded, using "morphing" techniques, that the resemblance to Leonardo is striking. [2] At any rate, the title "Mona Lisa" was not chosen by Leonardo, and it was not applied to the painting until the nineteenth century. "Mona" is a contraction of "madonna" (meaning 'lady' or 'madam'). Lisa is the name of the most likely subject of the painting. In any case, it is more commonly known as "La Gioconda" in Italian (Lisa Gherardini's married surname, the feminine form of "Giocondo").
  • The book matter-of-factly states that Leonardo da Vinci was a "flamboyant homosexual". While there are clues about Leonardo's personal life that may form a basis for the argument that he was homosexual, it is not conclusively known to be a fact, nor do scholars agree upon this.
  • The claim that the original design for the "cryptex" came from Leonardo's secret diaries. This is not based on fact; the 2004 illustrated version of the novel fails to present any Leonardo sketch of such a device. Brown's text also states that the name combines the words cryptology and codex; "an apt title for this device" since it uses "the science of cryptology to protect information written on the contained scroll or codex" (p. 199 of the novel). In fact a codex is the opposite of a "scroll", being a term for early forms of what would now be called a "book". The cryptex as described could not contain a bound volume such as a codex, which would also be protected by its structure from rapid destruction by corrosives.
  • The contention that the first version of Leonardo's "The Virgin of the Rocks" was rejected by the church because of its heretical content. There is no evidence at all for this claim. There is, however, evidence for a lengthy legal dispute over payments and expenses.
  • The contention that Mary Magdelene is depicted sitting next to Jesus in Leonardo's famous "Last Supper." Conventional iconography of the Apostles with Jesus always shows the Apostle John as beardless and young. Moreover, the Gospel of John refers to "the disciple Jesus loved" as sitting next to Jesus, and this is traditionally taken to mean John himself, a view that was normative in Leonardo's lifetime and in portrayals of the Last Supper by other artists of the period. This is all completely consistent with Leonardo's depiction of the person in the painting being John the Apostle, and not Mary Magdelene.
  • Mary Magdalene is said to have been labelled a whore by the Church (Chapters 58 and 60). This derives from a common linkage initiated by Pope Gregory I between figures mentioned in the Gospel of Luke, chapters 7 and 8, one of whom is Mary Magdalene, described as a victim of demonic possession: "Mary who is called Magdalen, out of whom seven devils were gone forth" (Luke 8:2). Gregory equated her with Mary of Bethany and an unnamed female "sinner". Later, Mary was also equated with the "woman taken in adultery" in the Gospel of John, increasingly connecting Mary with sexual sins. It is true that Catholic tradition has tended to defend these integrations in contrast to other Christian traditions (see the Catholic Encyclopedia), However the "promotion" of adultery into prostitution arises from Mary's role as patron saint of repentant sinful women. The euphemistic term "magdalen" has been used to refer to repentant prostitutes because of this.
  • The suggestion that the Tetragrammaton is "an androgynous physical union between the masculine Jah and the pre-Hebraic name of Eve, Havah" (Chapter 74). It is generally believed that the four Hebrew letters that form the Tetragrammaton (Yud, Hay, Vav, Hay) literally translate to 'To be, to become" which are believed to represent the name of the God of Israel.
  • Venus is depicted as visible in the east shortly after sunset (Chapter 105), which is an astronomical impossibility. This was corrected to "west" in some later editions, like 28th printing of British paperback (ISBN 0552149519) and apparently current printings of the US hardback.
  • Brown characterized the cycle of Venus as "trac[ing] a perfect pentacle across the ecliptic sky every four years", and from there claimed this as the basis for the four-year Olympic period (Chapter 6). The fact is, Venus completes five cycles in eight years, a fact well known to the ancient Greeks and Mayans. This eight-year cycle is one of the factors in predicting the transit of Venus. This was changed to "eight years" in some later editions such as the British paperback and at least the April 2003 printing of the US hardback.
  • The assertion that "left" is associated with terms such as "sinister" and other negative overtones because of "the Church's defamation". As a matter of fact, such associations are older than Christianity. The pre-Christian Latin word for left was "sinister", with negative implications, and the word for right was "dextera", with positive implications. Similar connotations also exist in other cultures, such as Hinduism (for instance, "left hand tantra"). Also, the claim that "left brain" colloquially means irrational, emotional mind is false; the left hemisphere of the brain is associated with rational, male functioning.
  • The claim that the early Israelites worshipped the goddess Shekinah as the equal to Yahweh. In fact the term Shekinah (derived from Hebrew for "dwelling") does not appear in early Judaism at all, but was used in later Talmudic Judaism to refer to the "dwelling", or presence of God among his people. It also came to be interpreted as the more "homely" or feminine aspects of God.
  • One of the cryptex clues claims that the Knights Templar worshipped a pre-Christian fertility god (a horned god) named Baphomet. However, this name is only known from records of the Templars' trial on charges of witchcraft, and is most probably a corruption of the name Mohammed.
  • The reference to Paris having been founded by the Merovingians (Chapter 55). In fact, Paris was settled by Gauls by the 3rd Century BC. The Romans, who knew it as Lutetia, captured it in 52 BC under Julius Caesar, and left substantial ruins in the city, including an amphitheater and public baths. The Merovingians did not rule in France until the 6th century AD, by which time Paris was at least 800 years old.
  • The repeated anachronistic reference to the Vatican as the center of power in the early Catholic Church, including reference to "the Vatican" suppressing Gnostic writings in the 4th century. Until the early Renaissance, the papal palace was in the cathedral of St. John Lateran. It was not until the 1400's that there was anything like official power in the vicinity of the Vatican Hill in Rome. In the 4th century, the Vatican was little more than a church and cemetery by the side of the road.
  • The allegation that Pope Clement V burned the ashes of the Templars and threw them into the Tiber River in Rome. When the Knights Templar were killed in France in 1312 by King Philip IV of France, neither they nor the Pope were anywhere near Rome. Their end occurred during the early years of the Avignon papacy, which lasted from 1309 to 1377.
  • Even the title "The Da Vinci Code" is not especially precise: the painter Leonardo da Vinci is nearly always referred to by scholars and to those outside the United States as "Leonardo." The "da Vinci" part of his name refers to the town that Leonardo's father came from, and has generally not been used by itself to refer to him. In defence of Brown, naming conventions for artists are often inconsistent (Michelangelo Buonarroti is known as "Michelangelo"; Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio is known as "Caravaggio", after his home town) and the convention used in the book is probably due to the fact that its target audience, mainstream America, know the painter as "da Vinci".
  • The book states that, at the explicit demand of French President Francois Mitterand, the Louvre Pyramid was constructed with 666 panes of glass. In fact, there are 673.

The popularity of the book, and widespread acceptance of it as being factually correct in all details, not just the ones Brown cites in the introduction, has created controversy in Christian communities, which has resulted in the publication of various books on the subject. Among others, this includes Steve Kellmeyer's Fact and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code and The Da Vinci Hoax by Carl Olson and Sandra Miesel.

Much of the problem of the book is its readiness to assert as fact opinions on debates that have not been resolved by scholars. As a consequence, the line where 'fact' ends and fiction begins is blurred. This, combined with the controversial religious opinions that combat or offend the communities discussed, has caused a great deal of debate and partisan material to erupt.

There have been widespread criticisms of the book as reflecting antiquated Protestant calumnies against Catholicism (e.g. on the BBC's Sunday programme on 24 July 2005), or more general anticlerical traditions. On March 15, 2005, Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, Archbishop of Genoa and former second-in-command of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, castigated the book and those who sell it on grounds of anti-Catholic bias. "This seems like a throwback to the old anti-clerical pamphlets of the 1800s," he said. It was a "gross and absurd" distortion of history, full of "cheap lies." The Archbishop also made a strong defense of Opus Dei, the Catholic organization which is a major target of the book.

Regarding the style of this book and others, Brown has also been criticised. In The Da Vinci Code there are many characters that evidently reflect US stereotypes of Europeans, leading Europeans in particular to attack Brown's offhand clichés and 'tired stereotypes'. Also, many literature scholars contend Brown's writing style is trite or Hollywood-esque.

Finally, Brown has suffered multiple plagiarism lawsuits relating to the storyline of Da Vinci Code.



  1. Olson and Meisel (2004), who refer to The Church in Crisis: A History of the General Councils, 325–1870 (1964) by Philip Hughes
  2. Lillian Schwartz of Bell Labs and Digby Quested of the Maudsley Hospital in London


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